Cities crack down on day laborers
Karin Ruben, San Gabriel Valley Tribune (CA), Mar. 20
About 50 of these Spanish-speaking men stood under a chilly sky, huddled in groups of two or three. They all displayed a mixture of weariness and determination and were far from their roots in Mexico City, Toluca, Honduras, Guadalajara and Chihuahua.
But now their growing number in Baldwin Park is sparking concern.
Responding to complaints of trash and men whistling at female customers, Baldwin Park’s City Council directed its staff to work with The Home Depot’s manager to set up an area outside the parking lot to contain the workers. Police were directed to enforce the plan.
Baldwin Park joins Azusa, El Monte, Monrovia, Duarte and Pasadena in cracking down on day laborers, most of whom are Latino immigrants.
City councils across the San Gabriel Valley say they must respond to complaints from business owners and residents who dislike day laborers congregating on street corners and parking lots looking for work. Laborers give a city a bad image and cause property values to fall, city officials say. The solution: passing ordinances regulating work transactions on the street.
“We don’t want to be ‘Grand Central’ for day laborers,’ Baldwin Park Councilwoman Marlen Garcia said. “They are running around jumping into trucks. I know they are honest people trying to make a living, but we need to keep them in a safe area.’
Advocates say they are hardworking men, out to make an honest wage and seeking an alternate to the welfare rolls. They view crackdowns and stiff laws as racism that targets Latino immigrants.
“This is not related to laborer problems, it’s motivated by anti-immigrant sentiments,’ said Thomas Saenz, vice president of litigation for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, a Latino civil rights group.
“The day laborers are part of the community, but are viewed as outsiders by people who want to restrict their presences. They are not there to whistle at women, gamble and drink. This is how they eat, pay for housing and transportation.’
City officials around the Valley deny the racism accusation.
“It’s a quality-of-life, health and safety issue,’ said Mario Leonard, 49, the Northwest program manager for the city of Pasadena. ‘This is not an anti-Hispanic issue, it has a lot to do with traffic.’
In June, Pasadena passed an ordinance banning drivers from stopping in the street to hire day laborers. Under the code, drivers are fined $300 for the first offense. So far, 35 violators have been cited, Leonard said.
Over the past 10 years, Saenz said, there has been a proliferation of anti-solicitation laws and a flurry of crackdowns because of these anti-immigration attitudes. Southern California, where an estimated 25,000 day laborers work on any given day, has the most mandates aimed at removing day laborers from public view of any state in the union.
“There is a perception that undocumented immigrants don’t pay taxes and use a lot of government services,’ said Veronica Federovsky, the West Coast organizer for the National Day Laborers Organizing Network, which lobbies on behalf of day laborers.
“But that is not true. They should be treated with respect and dignity like anyone else in the community.’
Latino civil rights groups challenge such ordinances in court. In 2000, a federal judge struck down a 1994 Los Angeles County ordinance barring day laborers from soliciting work on the streets.
U.S. District Judge George King declared the ordinance unconstitutional on the grounds it violated the day laborers’ rights to freedom of speech and freedom of association.
“The message needs to go out to cities that this is unconstitutional conduct and these cities will find themselves in legal trouble,’ Saenz said.
One approach to the problem is creating job centers away from neighborhoods and commercial areas. In Azusa, after years of debate, the city set up a day-laborer site at 1313 Gladstone Ave.
It is a turnout lined with shaded bus benches, drinking fountains, restrooms, pay phones and a bike rack. Local businesses donated materials and the property owner signed an agreement to lease the area to the city for $1 a year.
“It works,’ said Azusa police Officer Tom Montague, who spearheaded the project. “It’s located on the main drag where the trucks go.’
In February 2001, the Pasadena Employment Job Center opened in a commercial storefront. A $140,000 community block grant from the city pays for rent and staffing, Leonard said. The first year it opened, 733 jobs were found for the day laborers. By 2003, the number skyrocketed to 3,055, Leonard said.
“We have increased the number of people using the center and the number of jobs they get,’ he said. “We have less people on the streets, less complaints and fewer safety issues.’
Still, critics say many laborers avoid it because they want to be independent.
Monrovia allows a hiring center in a trailer behind The Home Depot and El Monte has a similar arrangement, officials said.
Home Depot spokeswoman Stephanie Martin says the company works with cities to provide an area for the workers.
Baldwin Park’s ordinance banning solicitation states if a property owner chooses to establish a place for the day laborers, that’s legal. If they choose not to provide an area, then looking for work in parking lots is illegal.
During a six-month period, Baldwin Park’s police records show officers responded to an average of one call a week for loitering at The Home Depot at 3200 Puente Ave.
Home Depot customer Angie Rodriguez says she uses the laborers for projects she cannot do.
“They do not bother me at all,’ she said. “They are very hardworking. They provide a service. I don’t know what I would do if they were not there.’
The reason for the growing influx of day laborers into Baldwin Park is due, in part, to recent crackdowns around the East Valley, but there also are a lot of day jobs for workers in Baldwin Park, said Raul Barrios, 58, a day laborer from Hacienda Heights.
“This is a good area,’ he said. “I hope nothing happens here because I want to stay in the area. This is good.’
Some workers are tired of being picked on.
“It’s a problem,’ said Adrian Garcia, 36, of La Puente, in broken English. “You get a $120 ticket just looking for work.’
Garcia was referring to a sheriff’s crackdown last month across town. Sheriff’s deputies kicked laborers off two commercial parking lots, one in Industry, the other in Rowland Heights.
Still, others say an organized area for laborers might help.
“It might be better,’ said Frankie Ramirez, 30, of La Puente. ‘It’s difficult now because the police come. Change might be good.’
Baldwin Park City Councilman Bill Van Cleave says the day laborers have rights.
“What are we, Nazi City?’ he asked. “These people are trying to make a living. We are going to pound them because they’re trying to get a job. The council does not know what it’s like to be without work.’